If this college basketball season has foreshadowed anything for March Madness, it's to expect that nothing will go as planned.
Sure, there are some familiar names topping the NET, KenPom and other rankings. But if anyone tells you they had San Diego State and Dayton, neither of which made the NCAA Tournament a year ago, as potential No. 1 seeds, they're either lying or immediately need to be buying Powerball tickets.
The tournament, even in some of its more chalk years, always has a few surprises in store. Think UMBC in 2018, George Mason in 2006, Middle Tennessee State in 2016 and Missouri in 2015. This year, no upset would be all that shocking considering the volatility of nearly every top team in the country. But we think there's a few teams to look out for when you begin filling out your bracket.
Stephen F. Austin
The Lumberjacks burst on to the sleeper scene in 2013-14 with an upset of No. 5 seed VCU in just their second tournament appearance in school history. What Brad Underwood started—before bolting to Illinois—has been kept running by head coach Kyle Keller, who has SFA rolling this year.
The 'Jacks are 27-3 overall and 18-1 in the Southland. Oh, they also beat top-ranked Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in November. But don't write this group off as one-hit upset wonder.
Keller's squad leads the country in steals, averaging a touch above 10 of them per game. They're seventh in both field goal percentage and scoring offense, and they get to the free throw line at a rate higher than all but three Division I teams. They're led by two experienced scoring guards—Kevon Harris (17.8 PPG) and Cameron Johnson (11.3 PPG)—who can fill it up on any night. For the wrong top-four seed, SFA could be a matchup nightmare.
There have been few better freshmen this year, in or outside of the power conferences, than North Texas guard Javion Hamlet.
The Memphis native has been an absolute terror for opposing defenses in Conference USA, averaging 17.9 points and 5.3 assists, while shooting 53 percent from the field, 40 percent from the three-point line and 88 percent at the charity stripe.
His scoring ability, along with that of running mate Umoja Gibson's (14.5 PPG) make the Mean Green exactly the type of team you don't want to see in the round of 64.
A significant drop-off was expected when legendary Belmont coach Rick Byrd retired last April. He led the Bruins from Atlantic Sun pretender to a perennial NCAA Tournament contender, winning at least 20 games in 13 of his final 14 seasons helming the program.
But new head man Casey Alexander, previously the head coach at Winthrop, has picked up where Byrd left off, leading Belmont to 25 wins and a regular season Ohio Valley Conference title. This year's iteration is led by sharpshooting guard Adam Kunkel, who has knocked down 82 three-pointers while averaging 16.6 points per game.
The Bruins share the ball better than anyone in the country—they're No. 1 in assists—and are in the top-20 nationally in field goal percentage, three-pointers made, defensive rebounds and scoring.
Much like North Texas or Stephen F. Austin, the Bruins present a dangerous matchup for potential No. 4 and No. 5 seeds with their shooting ability. And as shown by UMBC knocking off No. 1 Virginia two years ago, it takes just the right shooting night to get Cinderella's slipper to fit.
Follow Keegan on Twitter @ByKeeganPope. Statistics courtesy of Sports Reference.